Farming in the 19th century

The National Picture
Nationally, agriculture throve between 1853 and 1874, and then went into decline. Marsden livestock farmers will have been little affected by the 1870’s rise of American grain imports. However, after 1885 rising imports of meat, butter and wool depressed prices, while labour rose in price; the great Agricultural Depression reached its nadir in 1894-531. Did this affect Marsden?

People on the Land
The Marsden Census data shows an increase in people working in farming in Marsden from 1851 through to 1881; this mirrors the growth of population in Marsden, which would have stimulated the local market for food. Following this, there is a sharp drop-off in farmers and farm workers to 1891, with an especial decrease in part-time farmers; it may be that falling food prices drove some part-time farmers out of business.

Size of Farms
Did farms get bigger or smaller throughout the century? Comparisons of the 1838 and 1886 Rates Surveys for Marsden-in-Almondbury33 show that there were fewer owners of land in 1886, and they owned more land on average, though the pattern in both years was for a large number of small owners and just a few larger owners. Owners were on the whole different people from occupants, so most land-holdings were rented. In 1886, compared with 1838, there were more tenancies and fewer owner-occupiers. There were also fewer land occupants in 1886 than 1838, and a trend away from very small holdings. The year 1801, however, had the fewest small (fewer than 5 acres) holdings (data from 1801 Land Survey).

On the whole, though, the statistics show no very major change in the patterns of employment and land-occupancy over the course of the 19th Century.

  1. Ernle, Lord, English Farming Past and Present, 6th edition 1961, reprint of 5th revised edition 1936, Heinemann Educational Books Ch. XV111.
  2. Marsden Valuations 1838-1897, op.cit.